If you happen to bump into Bill Gates or Tim Cook in Central Square in Cambridge, Mass., odds are good that they’re heading to the Engine. It’s a hub for startups operated by MIT, just across the street from the Middle East restaurant and club.

MIT announced the venture in 2016, as a way to supply funding and work space for companies building businesses around scientific and engineering breakthroughs — what some call “tough tech.” It can require five or 10 years of hard work to transform those kinds of breakthroughs from a successful lab experiment to a marketable product customers can buy. Gates has invested in companies that were born at the Engine, and Cook dropped by in 2017 to meet with some of the entrepreneurs.

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